I started out the week with a documentary crew coming out here to do an interview on the early
days of the internet and the era of dial-up BBSs and the like.
As part of the presentation, I pulled my very first modem ("awwwww") out of mothballs and set it
up with a dumb terminal to re-create the circa-1980 internet experience for the documentary. I didn't
have any dumb terminals that were nearly that old and still functioning, but I'm hoping my flagrant use
of a piece of equipment from the 1990s wouldn't utterly destroy the audience's appreciation of the wonders
of dialing numbers by hand, squooshing the handset into the acoustic coupler's cups, and then enjoying
the treat of actual text oozing across the screen at 30 characters per second.
Yee-Haw! You know, if I threw together a few more exciting setups like this, I could turn it into a theme
Sure, maybe some of them wouldn't be quite as exciting as the top rides at Disneyland, but I'm pretty sure
I could made "300 baud dial-up" cheaper than "Space Mountain." I think it would all work out, just as
soon as I can get a few poorly-paid attendants to dress up in giant plush costumes that look like
computer components with legs and white gloves. I'll keep you posted.
my very first modem, still working as well as ever
On the other end of the line--that would be the server room in the basement--I'd set up a program
to simulate one of the BBSs I'd used back in the early 80's. One that, if memory serves, never supported speeds
above 300 baud, messages longer than ten lines, or lower-case letters.
But compared to the formerly ubiquitous Teletype Model 10's I'd used before then, that was still pretty luxurious and
thirty characters per second was practically blazing. Bear in mind, too, back then the most common dumb terminal was
the ADM-3a, whose standard configuration was upper-case only and supported just
twelve lines of text. Twenty-four lines and lower-case letters were both upgrades that cost more than an entire
new computer does today.
How things change. Nowadays any piece of computer equipment you can buy supports both upper and lower case
letters--it's just the people *using* the equipment who don't. I don't know how much the upgrade to
fix that costs. Or where you would stick the screwdriver when it came to installing it.
Isn't it scary that I remember all these details off the top of my head and didn't look any of it up or even have to
pause to think a moment?
It's also a bit scary to think that my little recreation of the early days of the internet used equipment older than
about 50% of the population currently on the net.
If not for the fact that I'd started programming before birth (which was kind of uncomfortable for my mother,
but I think it was better than taking up ice-skating), this kind of thing would make me feel old.
In any event, it was pretty cool to be part of a documentary and flattering to have people not only sit still
and listen to me babble about obsolete computer hardware, but actually fly out here from California for
the experience. The program should be out sometime in the first half of next year, and I'll be sure to keep
you updated when I hear more about when and where it'll be showing.